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Kenyan Youth Will Continually Be Frustrated by the Job Market Without Professional Career Guidance

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One of the most common misnomers is that success in careers is only found when one goes to ‘uni’ (university). Click To Tweet

The desperation is real. The job market in Kenya is difficult, to say the least. Graduates with university degrees struggle to find jobs and are reduced to “hustling” – defined here as in doing whatever it takes to make ends meet. Sometimes that even includes nefarious pursuits such as thievery and transactional sex work. Getting a job in Kenya is too often fraught with corruption, nepotism, tribalism, sexism, and sexual exploitation.

Working in the youth sector in Kenya over the years in various capacities, I cannot count how many times a young person comes up and asks me to get them a job as if I had a random stack of jobs in our jacket pockets to hand out to them like a sweet.

The first question I ask them is, “What kind of job are you looking for?”, followed immediately by, “And what jobs are you qualified to fill?” The response, overwhelmingly is, “I’ll take ANY job.”

I then ask, “What kind of job is ‘any job’?” while then pointing out that ‘any job’ doesn’t exist, and that to get a job one has to pursue the types of job in which they are qualified for and, hopefully, interested in.

So many young people have shared their horror stories with me about being asked for money to just get a job interview. After making payment (not ever advisable, but you can understand the temptation), the job interview—never mind the job—mysteriously never materializes. Some women have even confided about being asked to have sex with a man who is offering a job, even in reputable companies. Some have admitted to doing so because they were so desperate for a job. In almost all instances, the job never materializes.

Others said that unless their family knows someone higher up in a company, the chances of getting a job that you applied for through traditional means is next to impossible. Others have recounted that they felt that they were denied a job because they were of the ‘wrong’ tribe. Whether this is real or perceived, it is still an all-too-common experience.

Career Counseling to the rescue?

As detailed above, the job market in Kenya is difficult in and of itself. It is even more difficult when one is not prepared to manoeuvre within it. Amongst other things, this points to the need for career advisory services. But let’s face it, most Kenyans can point to having had either or both of the following experiences: 1) career advice from a parent, which is usually based on their own aspirations for their child rather than on the child’s aspirations, interests, skills, talents, personality; and 2) career advice from a ‘Career Teacher’ or ‘Career Master/Mistress’ in high school who generally was more concerned with students achieving high marks on the KCSE to reflect well on the school rather than helping the student think about the myriad opportunities the world offers them and forging a pathway to navigate the treacherous job market that confronts them.

Thousands of students who graduate with As, Bs, Cs, or even Ds, Es and Fs are equally confused about the career pathway to follow. This is because there are preconceived notions about those who pass and those who “fail”, ‘cool’ careers vs. drab careers, rich careers and poor careers, the list is endless.

One of the most common misnomers is that success in careers is only found when one goes to ‘uni’ (university). This is as dead as it sounds! Success is found in understanding that every human being is unique and has a purpose in this world. Success is in finding yourself and the things in life that you will pursue. Find a suitable career that matches your personality, interests, and abilities, and you will find joy and satisfaction in your work.

Studies have revealed that many Kenyan students join universities, colleges and technical institutes to pursue careers that do not match their capabilities and often make vocational choices based on hearsay, parental influence, peer pressure, the job market, speculation etc.

Career planning starts with knowledge of self, and NOT grades. Career choices should start by understanding one’s interests, skills, personality, values, gifts, talents, abilities and capabilities; then harmonize these with education and training.

This is reinforced by a recent testimonial from a young Kenyan woman who is now on her way to a successful career in digital marketing. She recounted to me about how a high school teacher and a guidance counsellor tried to convince her that geometry and advanced algebra were beyond her capabilities. The guidance counsellor actually told her that if she was not going into engineering, then why bother? The teacher was opposed because she had joined the school in second term and didn’t think she would be able to make it after having missed the first term. Thankfully, she said, she did not listen to either of them and did well in both classes.

Her takeaway from the experience is that most people without the proper training in career counselling provide advise based on their own experience and little to do with the person they are providing the advice to. In her case, neither the teacher nor the guidance counsellor took the time to get to know her as an individual. They didn’t see the drive and determination that was there, and had she been persuaded to listen to them it would have been to her own detriment. Unfortunately, not all young people would have ignored such advice.

In closing, here is some advice to the following stakeholders:

To parents: Expand your minds and throw out the notion that the only respectable careers for your child are for them to become a doctor, lawyer, or engineer, and that anything less is failure. The only real failure in life is the failure to try. The Kenyan economy is growing and evolving with new technological sectors emerging. This modernization is creating a wealth of decent-paying, highly-skilled jobs for those with the skills to do them.

You may like: Different Paths, One Journey

To Career Teachers: Seek additional training and resources to better provide salient career advice to your students, and take the time to get to know them as individuals. Most importantly, help your students seek out what their gifts to the world are. They are there. They just need to be uncovered. Finding a career is a journey, and takes exploration and introspection. Help your students be inquisitive and introspective. Training in career guidance will equip you with necessary competences, resources and tools.

To headmasters and University Vice-Challencellors: Let’s demand for professional standards for career teachers and career counsellors, and let’s offer more robust career advisory services, including basics such as building a successful CV, how to search and network for a job, and interview training. A better understanding of the current and projected needs of the job market is also required and could be facilitated through partnerships with the private sector.

To Students: Challenge your preconceived notions of what constitutes success and know that you will most likely change jobs more that 10 times and even change your career 2-3 times during your working lifetime. Be ready for that by keeping an open mind, by knowing your skills and talents, by exploring your interests, and throwing out the notion that becoming rich is more important than working hard, taking pride in your work, and being a good person. And be ready to start at the bottom. It is the only place to start.

As the late Steve Jobs once said, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”


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